Debate Movies

You might be looking for a fun, debate-related activity to do with your debate squad to break up the mid-winter monotony, the lull in enthusiasm, that can sometimes creep in at this point in the calendar. What about screening one of these fascinating debate movies for your debaters after school one day soon — with or without popcorn and gummy worms.

(i) “The Great Debaters” (2007)

This is probably the best debate movie of the past five years. Directed by and starring Denzel Washington, and produced by Oprah Winfrey (and with a speaking role by a former debater of Les’s in the mid-1990s from Whitney Young, Voltaire Sterling), it tells the true story of the national championship debate team in 1937 from Wiley College, an historically black college in Marshall, TX. The speaking style of the debaters in the film is a lot different than competitive academic debate today, but there are scenes of great rhetorical power, and a few indelible scenes of a coach’s fully committed work with his students.

(ii) “Resolved” (2007)

This very well-received, intelligent, and entertaining documentary about National Circuit high school debate focuses on two teams — one from a wealthy suburban school outside of Dallas and the other a low-income school from Long Beach, a school in the Southern California Urban Debate League, that utilizes a “performance theory” of debating and critiques the exclusionary debating style and practices of teams like the one from suburban Dallas.

Take a sampling of the documentary from the trailer on Youtube — this film, like “The Great Debaters,” is available on Netflix.

(iii) College Sports Network’s Documentaries on the 2004 and 2005 National Intercollegiate Debate Tournaments

In the middle of the 2000s the CBS Sports CSN filmed hour-long documentaries on the intercollegiate national debate championships (NDTs) in 2004 and 2005. They’re both available on Google Videos: 2004 and 2005. They’re both surprisingly exciting and highly watchable as accounts of National Circuit college debate as an intensely competitive sport. The 2004 documentary may be slightly better and more focused as a narrative.

(iv) “Debate Team” (2008)

This darker, more ambivalent documentary views National Circuit debate as a very powerful educational activity that does have its excesses. Overall, a thought-provoking account, and one that I think implicitly but strongly endorses the urban debate project. It’s not available on Netflix, but is available directly from the Debate Team website.

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